WNBA, NHL WILL HELP BUILD COKE BRANDS: POWERADE TIES TO WOMEN'S HOOPS, SURGE TO HOCKEY

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Coca-Cola Co. has scored key sponsorships for two of its budding brands, securing the Wo-men's National Basketball Association for PowerAde and the National Hockey League for Surge.

Both sponsorships are components of larger pacts Coca-Cola has negotiated with the leagues. The multiyear NHL deal, valued at $30 million, also covers PowerAde-which displaces Gatorade as the league's official sports drink-and Coke, marking its renewal as the official soft drink.

TAPS DIET COKE, TOO

Coca-Cola will leverage its NHL and WNBA ties with ads, promotions and grass-roots programs. The WNBA pact is said to cover Diet Coke, too.

The PowerAde portion of the WNBA deal is valued between $1.5 million to $3 million. That buys time on WNBA broadcasts on NBC, ESPN and Lifetime and exclusive presence in arenas.

Coca-Cola has a history of using sports sponsorships to build brands. In 1994, it renewed as a global NBA sponsor but replaced Coke with Sprite as the lead brand. The switch has contributed significantly to the brand's 15% growth in volume since then.

The NHL could prove to be an especially useful brand builder for PowerAde, since it's the only league whose players can consume isotonic beverages on the field of play. To close the deal, league executives brokered negotiations with the 26 teams that had individual Gatorade deals to switch to PowerAde.

PowerAde's two wins are Gatorade's losses. The Quaker Oats Co. brand, which boasts 80% of the $1.5 billion sports drink category, was the incumbent NHL sponsor and is a longtime NBA marketing partner.

That the NHL and WNBA would choose PowerAde over Gatorade is curious given PowerAde's 10% market share and weaker brand name.

Coca-Cola has deep pockets, but both leagues said the marketer wasn't heavy-handed in using its clout to gain deals for PowerAde and Surge.

"None more so than usual," said Rick Dudley, president of NHL Enterprises, when asked if Coca-Cola exerted pressure on the league. He added that taking other Coca-Cola brands "has never been a deal breaker" in negotiating to get Coke.

'DON'T FORCE THINGS'

Said a Coca-Cola spokesman, "We look for what's best for our brands and what will be win-win deals for our marketing partners. We will pursue aggressively what we think is a good fit for us, but we don't force things on them."

That Surge can boast of being the official soft drink of any sports league is a major coup for a brand that is currently available in only about 60% of the country. But the NHL could be a good fit for Surge, a rival to Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Mountain Dew; the latter has embraced extreme sports, which share hockey's young male demographics.

PowerAde and Surge are also expected to play roles in Coca-Cola's 1998 Winter

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